Like many, I have a fondness for restaurants. They never fail to cheer me, whether I’m dropping in to enjoy my occasional treat to myself of a full Irish breakfast, or meeting pals for Saturday brunch after a visit to Limerick’s excellent Milk Market, or having lunch in town if I’m out for the day, or getting together with more pals for dinner to celebrate a birthday, or a book publication, or just because. There’s something so lovely about going out to eat – particularly if it’s to eat food you don’t have to cook, or clean up after. Of course, going out to eat at the moment sadly isn’t possible – more of that anon – but when I could, I did, and it was always rewarding.
Not surprisingly, the inspiration for The Restaurant came from a visit to a real live restaurant. It happened a little over a year ago, and the restaurant in question was The Green Yard, one of my favourites in Limerick. It has a gorgeous leafy courtyard to which I make a beeline anytime I visit on a kind-weather day. On this particular occasion a few of us were getting together to celebrate a birthday of one of our number, and the evening was balmy, and we’d been lucky enough to nab a table in the courtyard. The place was lit up with strings of lights, and lanterns on the tables, and it was magical to sit there as the daylight waned and a beautiful rosy sky took over. As it happened I was casting about for a new book idea at the time, so when someone remarked that a restaurant would make a good setting for one of my stories, I latched onto it with great enthusiasm. It may have had something to do with my having consumed more than one glass of wine at the time, but readers of my past books will know that I do welcome any opportunity to write about food, so this idea, I felt, had great promise. I made a note there and then on my phone, and when it still seemed like a good idea the following morning I began to toss it gently about in my head, playing with various scenarios until I was happy, working up a plot that felt right – and within a week or so The Restaurant was up and running. (Incidentally, simple as the title sounds, it took quite a while for my editor and I to arrive at it!)
The first draft was written in about six months, like the majority of my first drafts. I’m very disciplined when I write, setting myself a monthly target of 20,000 words, and breaking that down into a daily output of in the region of 1,000 words, which allows me a day off every now and again as long as I’m delivering the goods. I keep a writing diary so I can chart my progress, and I pick up the pace if it’s flagging, working more hours, and more days in a row, until I’m happy that I’m back on track. It might sound very formulaic – but guess what, folks? There is no magical muse who comes and whispers in my ear, no secret well of inspiration known only to writers. It’s a case of bum on seat, and good old-fashioned thinking, and trying out sentences to see how they sound, and tweaking and deleting and replacing, and repeating this until the word count is where it needs to be. Writing a book is a tough grind, and would be totally intimidating at the start if I were to dwell on the thousands of thoughtfully considered words that need to be created, so I don’t do that. Each morning when I switch on my laptop I think of the words that I need to create that day, nothing else. The diary is good; it’s very motivating to see the count going steadily upwards, even if there are days (there are) when nothing sounds right, and you wonder why you ever imagined you could write.
When covid-19 brought the world as we know it to a halt in March, very little changed for me. I live alone, apart from Fred the cat, who does his own thing and checks in for food and occasional cuddles. I was just about to begin writing a new book, having signed off on The Restaurant a couple of weeks previously. The lockdown seems to have hit different writers in different ways; for me it worked in my favour, allowing me to get the new first draft down – admittedly about a third shorter than usual – in a record two months. I wouldn’t have thought my output would have changed greatly in lockdown – I was doing what I always did, writing-wise – but once I got over the initial panic that I think most of us felt at the outset of this pandemic, I found that the mental white space created by the lack of usual after-work social interactions – the aforementioned restaurant trips, the pub nights, the dinner parties, the other outings – seemed to spill over into my working day, leaving my mind wonderfully uncluttered, and perfectly positioned to focus fully on my plot and characters. To my surprised delight (and that of my editor) the story flew along, and first draft was in the bag by the middle of May. I’m currently editing it, and it’s due out, all going well, in October – but in the meantime I’m thrilled to have The Restaurant out in the world. Even after sixteen others, the thrill of seeing a new title on the shelves never fades. It’s a little ironic that it has emerged into a time where the pleasures of real restaurants are still denied to us, but this too will pass, doors will open again, and maybe readers will be happy to enjoy an imaginary restaurant until then.
(c) Roisin Meaney
About The Restaurant:
When Emily’s heart is broken by the love of her life, she never imagined that she would find herself running a small restaurant in the converted hat shop her grandmother left to her. The Food of Love offers diners more than just a home-cooked meal — and even though Emily has sworn off romance forever, it doesn’t stop her hoping for happiness for her regulars, like widowed Bill who hides a troubling secret, single mum Heather who ran away from home when she was sixteen, and gentle Astrid whose past is darker than any of her friends could know.
Then, out of the blue, Emily receives a letter from her ex. He’s returning home to Ireland and wants to see her. Soon Emily has some tough decisions to make.
Will she choose the life she could have had, or the one she has ended up in? Is she brave enough to give love a second chance – and wise enough to figure out where it’s truly to be found?
Order your copy online here.